Malaysia’s Anwar defiant as sodomy trial resumes
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim rejected sodomy charges against him as a government fabrication to ruin him politically as he addressed the court for the first time Monday in his trial.
Anwar made the claim while reading out an opening statement from the dock as the defence began presenting its case in the often-delayed trial, five months after the prosecution rested its case.
“The allegation is a blatant and vicious lie and will be proven so. This is a vile and desperate attempt at character assassination,” Anwar told a Kuala Lumpur courtroom packed with journalists and foreign diplomats.
“This entire process is nothing but a conspiracy by Prime Minister Najib Razak to send me into political oblivion by attempting once again to put me behind bars,” he added later.
Anwar, 64, is charged with sodomising young male aide Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan in June 2008 and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
The former deputy prime minister and one-time Malaysian leader-in-waiting has blasted the trial as a political frame-up aimed at thwarting a political opposition that has found new strength under him.
His lawyers said Monday that they had formally requested that the court subpoena Najib in the trial, but told AFP that even if a summons is issued, the prime minister could apply to have it set aside.
Dressed in a dark suit, Anwar spent an hour reading out his statement, which said the prosecution’s case was riven with inconsistencies and labelled the proceedings a political “show trial”.
“I categorically deny the charges against me. I want to state in no uncertain terms that I never had sexual relations with the complainant,” he said.
“They can do all they want to sully my reputation and threaten me with…
jail. They won’t be able to cow me. The truth will prevail.” The hearing adjourned at midday and was the trial was to resume on Tuesday with the defence expected to begin calling witnesses.
Anwar’s legal battles have dominated Malaysian politics for years.
Malaysia was once one of Asia’s most politically stable countries under former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who had groomed Anwar to take the helm of the economically vibrant, multi-cultural nation.
But a bitter split over how to respond to the 1997 Asian currency crisis led to Anwar’s arrest the following year – and later conviction – on separate sodomy and corruption charges widely seen as politically motivated.
He was freed in 2004 after that sodomy conviction was overturned and sparked a resurgence by the political opposition, which achieved historic gains against the ruling Barisan Nasional in 2008 general elections.
Anwar says the new allegations are aimed at scuppering opposition chances in fresh elections expected to be called early next year.
Saiful has said he met with Najib before filing a police report on the sodomy accusation, which Anwar’s defence team says indicates the case was manufactured.
Najib’s government has denied involvement in the case. Najib refused to speak to defence lawyers or be called as a witness in interviews last week ordered by the trial judge.
Anwar’s court appearance comes after police used tear gas and water cannon to put down a demonstration calling for electoral reform on July 9, the biggest anti-government protest in years.